August 31, 2005

Black and White and Shades of Gray: Photography Without Color

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The Johnson Museum doled out an array of images from its permanent collection for the new photography show, “Black and White and Shades of Gray: Photography Without Color.” The Photography exhibit, which displays a number of recent acquisitions made by the museum, opened August 27th and is to be displayed until October 16th. Curator Nancy Greene covers the entire spectrum of photo processes in the show, including earlier methods Platinum Print and Cyanotype and contemporary silver gelatin. Not all the photographs are in fact black, white, or gray; one photo of flowers has a lovely cerulean background, while images in tans and browns indicate the period when photo technology first developed.

Obscure photographs of nameless faces and landscapes appear alongside high-profiled works by notable photographers Ansel Adams, Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Stieglitz and one of the first innovators in the field, Henry Fox Talbot, connected only by their common color scheme. A photograph shot by Edward Cannon, known for his famous images of Native Americans, is on display as well and dates back to 1924. It seems as though there is less of a unifying theme among the photos intentionally as more importance rests on the representation of the different contexts in which black and white photography can be used.

Greene commented on the loose ties between the individual pieces, stating that she tried to group similar categories; Portraiture, Architecture, Landscapes, Still Life and Commercial subjects, together and within each mini exhibition implemented a continuum pattern to illustrate the progression of the medium’s development over time.

The images themselves range in time period and in significance. Some of the photos are of momentous events in history, including a picture of Germany’s surrender to Allied forces during the liberation of Paris in 1944. Others are of common life moments, including a photo of a group of distinguished men patiently awaiting their photo to be taken before the Geneva Conference in 1933.

The exhibit cleverly juxtaposes images of when black and white image technology was new and cutting edge to its more modern use as an artistic medium for dramatics. There are pictures that envision the stark realism of the Depression era, and photos like one of Martha Graham in an impossible dancer’s pose and Stieglitz’s image of the Flat Iron building on a dreary winter day that are meant to stir the imagination.

The more modern pieces in the exhibit support the idea of the absence of color’s ability to capture a space and its shadows that palette variation can not achieve. Anthony Goicolea’s “Warriors” piece is an impressive modern wide-length image of a young man in a number of poses, some playful, some vacant, others mischievous. The use of black and white photography in the image of the vibrant youth sharpens the contrast between the outdoor surroundings in the frame compared to the engaging subject.

Other highlights of the show include photos of James Joyce seated with a cane resting in his lap and a distracted gaze. In another earlier image, a woman and her child stand in the doorway of their humble makeshift housing unit, with newspaper clippings of Santa Claus and privileged American life completely apart from their own on the walls to provide insulation.

Curator Greene hopes the exhibit will serve to allow museum patrons to look at black and white photography as a different way of approaching things especially in the age of color, realize its cinematic quality and see how different artists approach black and white imagery.

Archived article by Sophia Asare
Sun Staff Writer